Arthur (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
9Apr/110

Arthur (2011)

ANDREW LIKEI'm going to let you all in on a little secret that, to this point, I'm sure has been hard to pick up on - I'm something of a romantic.  I like believing that things are going to turn out for the best and that there's the potential in everyone to act in a magical way at least once in their life.  Coming out of Arthur I felt like I had just spent a long time with a person who lived out the dream of helping people realize that ideal at least once.  That he has a bit of a drinking problem, well, that comes with it's own issues.

Another issue is that this remake of the original Arthur stars one of the more divisive comedians of this early 21st century, Russell Brand.  He was previously in Get Him To The Greek (a film I really enjoyed and read in a completely different way than our guest reviewer did) and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.  Granted, he played the same character in both, but completely threw off the idiot rocker stereotype in such a surprisingly sensitive fashion that I knew I was looking at the real deal.

He's so unique in stature, voice and mannerisms that he's going to draw quite a bit of ire with his performance in Arthur.  His role is written as another one of those irrepressible man-children that have been cropping up in quite a few comedies these days.  But there are a few differences, the first being his fabulous wealth (and really, it's hard to advance past a certain point if you're spoiled) and more importantly is his incredibly generous and wonderful spirit.

Like him or hate him, Russell Brand is unique and he brings a very specific and optimistic touch to his great work in Arthur.

It's funny that Arthur's tagline is "The world's only likable billionaire" because Arthur's behavior trends so close to socialistic it's funny to watch from a certain economic context.  The film is smart enough to have some fun with that too.  In the opening scenes Arthur, dressed as Batman, crashes the Batmobile from Batman Forever (a recurring gag is that Arthur loves cars from movies) and someone asks if it's right for him to spend so much money during a recession.  His solution?  Pay the bail of everyone he's with to get out of jail along with him, go to the nearest ATM and take out wads of cash, throw it into the air and scream "Recession over!"

Easy solution huh?  Granted, the reality is more complex than that, but it's a nice moment that highlights just how good, if irresponsible, a person he is (and one partial solution to our issues...but I digress).

The conflict comes from Arthur's mother Vivienne (Geraldine James) who has threatened to cut Arthur off unless he cleans up and marries the ladder climbing Susan (Jennifer Garner).  Terrified of being cut off from his money and fairly deaf to his nanny Hobson's (Helen Mirren) subtle digs to grow up, he goes along with the plan in one of the funniest forced proposal scenes I've witnessed.  The film plays with a very direct sense of duality so while Arthur is strung along for the dark, pragmatic and determined Susan he meets the sunny, creative and loving Naomi (Greta Gerwig) when she's giving tours of New York.

The scenes with Naomi and Arthur bonding are so gentle and romantic that I nearly forgot that this was the same film that featured Luis Guzman barely fitting into a Robin costume.  There is one moment that is almost absolutely perfect and needs to be preserved.  Naomi tells Arthur that when she was little she thought that she was special because she believed the moon was always following her around.  "Preposterous!", cries Arthur, "If that were true than the moon would be right..", then after looking out the window Arthur hides in the curtains, adding truth to Naomi's story, and cementing their love of bringing magic to the world in everything we take for granted.  That isn't even the magical high point of that particular scene together, and blossoms into a truly exquisite first kiss.

Another wonderful moment, Naomi and Arthur spinning a fabulous lie about a first date that seems impossible to keep Naomi out of jail.

Of course, plot land keeps a rollin' and Arthur can't hide his fake engagement from Naomi forever.  Plus a character develops a headache early on, never a good sign when the movie stops to point out that someone keeps getting bad headaches.  So there are a few obvious developments and the way the engagement plays out feels a bit too long and forcefully sad (do we need another montage of the main character walking slowly through a party while everyone else is going super fast?  I think not.)  But all of this is balanced out with so many scenes of watching good people trying to do extraordinary things.

This is director Jason Winer's first feature length project.  He previously cut his teeth on the family sitcom Modern Family, and his way of mixing the magic into the mundane is definitely fueled from his experience on that show.  He stages the dualities a bit too broadly as Hobson and Naomi are both bright haired and loosely dressed "angels" while Susan and his mother are both dark haired and tightly dressed "devils".  But this actually fits in with some religious iconography and imagery that creeps in so slowly that you realize this is a story about a man who lost his soul when his dad died a long time ago, and slowly learns to deal with that pain and still bring magic to the world.

Arthur is not without it's flaws, but it's a charming and occasionally beautiful movie that delighted me all the same.  I was dreading watching Your Highness this week because I couldn't stand to see David Gordon Greene hit such a low.  But, thankfully, the coin-toss was mine to win and I came out ahead.

Better luck next week Danny.

Arthur (2011)
Directed by Jason Winer.
Screenplay by  Jared Stern and Peter Baynham.
Starring Russell Brand, Helen Mirren and Greta Gerwig.

Posted by Andrew

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